I grew up in a small rural town in Oregon. There was very little diversity, things can be very black and white, the city is usually taught to be a terrible place where you don’t want to go (at least for long), and you’re conditioned to think a certain way. Then I went off to college. Corvallis seemed like the big city to me compared to what I grew up with, it was a little more diverse, and still there wasn’t a huge draw to go to a city. I was content in that size of a place. I then got engaged and moved to Bozeman, Montana. A beautiful place where the sky is bigger, the mountains tower, the last best place if you ask those who live there. Definitely upper middle class, very white, and a comfortable place to raise a family. I could have lived there for the rest of my life, content and comfortable doing ministry on campus and raising my kids.
But God, but God had different plans for us. He began to teach us about the city (the dreaded place I never wanted to go). He began changing Matt’s heart through others who were leading the charge in doing ministry in cities. Thanks to Tim Keller sharing his wisdom and heart, God began to change ours. I wasn’t really educated about life in the city and had only visited the mall so that wasn’t a great picture of what it could look like to live in Portland. Cities were unknown, and the unknown is scary. My view of what a city even was began changing. I was being asked by God to leave my comfort zone, because as great as a city is, it can be very uncomfortable. It’s loud, it has lots of people, the pace of life is faster and wherever you turn you meet people who are not like you.
So when I posted on Facebook a fact that I thought was interesting last night from a book called The Walkable City that Matt is reading which said,
The combined risk of dying from traffic crashes and crime in Seattle, Portland and Vancouver B.C. on average if you add the two factors together, you are 19% safer in the inner city than the outer suburbs.
I was kind of surprised at the responses I got. I was merely sharing an interesting thing to me and people came out very black and white about their opinions (although light hearted) of whether you should live in the city or the suburbs. I’m the first to admit that I am passionate about what I know and where we live. And clearly that has changed over the years based on where God has put me and what He has asked me to do. I’m also becoming more passionate about learning from others interesting things about the world we live in, such as the benefits to living in a city and how it betters life in certain ways. I’m not making a judgment call about your choice of where to live. You and only you are accountable to God and following through with living and serving Him where He asks you to go. For some that’s the suburbs and for some it’s the city and for some it’s middle of nowhere Montana.
I do know though that I’ve never been more aware of the brokenness, the hurt, and the darkness as I am in the city. But I also have seen God’s love for people more here than anywhere else because He is a pursuer of all people, especially the broken and hurting. His heart beats for them and mine should too.
Portland, the place I now call home, was said to be the least churched place in all of America last year. That breaks God’s heart and so I unashamedly share that with people. I unashamedly want others to know that there are indeed great things about the city and more people who love God need to move here so that statistic can change. We need more people who love God to move out of their comfort zone and help love people in the city. Could that be you?
No matter where you live, walk out your front door, meet your neighbor, pray for your neighborhood, serve the town or city you live in. Do something every day that makes the place you are better. Go out of your way to do the uncomfortable, you’ll be glad you did.